Monday, February 22, 2010

Growing Up Non Christian - Part 1

One thing I've never done on here is share my I came to put my trust in Jesus as my Lord and Saviour.

It has been over eight years since that day. It was certainly not as spectacularly spiritual as Paul's conversion.   It happened in the quietness of an empty classroom at Curtin University where I was close to finishing my first year of my arts degree in creative writing and theatre (all those useful things that will guarantee you a job haha).  I had been meeting with two girls from the Christian Union for Bible study.  We finished in prayer and I asked God silently to come into my life, to forgive me for rebelling against Him and to be my Saviour and King.

I'd better backtrack a few years....

My upbringing was an average, secular, nominally-Christian one.  I never went to church.  I never went to Sunday School.  I didn't know any hymns.  The only time I set foot in a church building was for my primary school's annual Christmas carol singing.  Looking back, it actually surprises me now that my school ever ventured into a church building.  I went to a government school but, being the oldest school in Albany, it came with its traditions.  And one of those traditions involved having a numb butt on a hard pew crammed in with twice as many bodies as it was designed to hold, singing songs I didn't understand.  I hated the pews, but I did like the songs.  There was something awe-inspiring and reverent about them.

One of the outcomes of being raised non-Christian is that you inevitably get taught things about Jesus and His followers that I found out in latter years weren't true.  Like most of their generation, my parents had been raised in the church, but left in the early 1970s when they reached their twenties.  Suddenly they didn't need God anymore...if they ever truly followed Him in the beginning.  During one Easter, my mum told me that just before Jesus died, God was so angry with evil people, He was going to destroy the world when Jesus begged God, "No, take me!"  So I spent my childhood and teenage years believing that Jesus' death was a last-ditch effort to appease an angry God.  I swung between seeing God as a gentle grandfather and an angry tyrant who I'd never be good enough for. and Jesus was this nice guy who picked up lambs and said, "Bless you my child."  I was 10 when my mum wanted to send me to Sunday School under the reasoning that it would be 'good for me'.  As a child, I interpreted this as, 'You're a disobedient girl and Sunday School is a kind of reform school that will teach you some good manners.'  I told her she couldn't make me go and she eventually backed down.  Six days of school?  What kid wants that?

So I spent the majority of my childhood giving God very little thought until I hit high school and the Gideons came to give us all free New Testaments.  I saw one boy tearing his to shreds, mocking it and I was horrified.  I didn't really want my Bible but I could never have brought myself to destroy it.  I found myself reading it in bed at night by torchlight and found some of the verses very comforting.  I didn't really understand what I was reading but I would look up verses on topics I was curious about such as fear or faith and be enthralled.

It was in Year 8 that I met Emma, but it took us a year or so to become friends.  I wasn't a very nice person to her and I couldn't believe that I'd actually met someone who went to church and WANTED to go!  I wouldn't blame her if she hadn't liked me very much either, I was downright rude.  Some may argue that not much has changed, but I think Christians can relate to the prayer of the alcoholic and I see myself as a work in progress.  Anyway, a lot of my so-called friends from primary school got into drinking and smoking and after trying it, I decided I didn't want to go down that path.  Perhaps even back then, God was giving me this strange sense of right and wrong.  When it became apparent that I would not join them on their 'extracurricular activities', they ditched me.  So by Year 9 I was in the awful position of feeling alone and friendless.  I had acquaintances, but I craved a real friend.  I got to know Rhianon better that year as we had some classes together and soon, she, Emma and I started hanging out together.  It was strange because I don't think we planned this. It just sort of happened and, to be honest, as nice as they were, they were not the friends I would have chosen.  I wanted friends who were loud and popular, who could benefit me in some way and get me where I wanted to the top.  Instead God provided me with friends who were humble and gentle - so different to anyone else I knew at that stage.  God was moving the pieces of the puzzle slowly into place.  I'm glad God knows better than me.

Despite being in the position where I now had Christian friends, it was in Year 9 that I decided to become an atheist.  My English teacher stated quite emphatically one day that, "There is no God," and I found myself agreeing with him.  Surely if you got rid of God, then you solved a lot of the world's problems?  But a world without God made no sense to be and I began to rethink my position.

In Year 11, I met Christina.  We had no friends in our Human Biology class and she'd only been at my school for six months so we ended up sitting next to each other as two fellow loners.  It was the start of another great friendship.  We still talk about that class to this day.  It was so much fun and soon my Christian friends grew in number; I met Rianna in Year 12.  My dad used to joke about this, implying that I was some sort of Pied Piper of Christians, that somehow all these 'religious people' were drawn to me.  I couldn't explain it, but I was equally as drawn to them.  They were different to everyone else in my year.  They lived differently, yet they weren't weirdos.  They had this incredible hope in a person called Jesus.  They were part of a group of people who they loved to meet with each week, a group called 'church' who I had previously associated with stony-faced hypocrites who sat on hard benches and sang incomprehensible songs.  I wanted to be one of them.  Whereas my other Christian friends were quieter and more reserved, Christina had a louder personality similar to mine.  She was so open about church and God and inviting myself and others to Christian things, I couldn't believe it.  Didn't she care about her reputation?  I sure cared about mine, so I kept my longing hidden and pretended to be sceptical.  I had always been a very ambitious person.  I would set my sights on a goal and do whatever it took to get there.  I was going to be a famous writer and actress.  Suddenly this wasn't enough anymore because my friends had this Jesus in their lives and I didn't know why, but I wanted Him too.

Surprisingly my mum was the one who encouraged to accept my friends' invitations.  She said it was a good thing and I should go along so I went to the Christian group that was set up at my school by a local chaplain which in later years, became known as the GARLIC group (Get A Real Life in Christ).  I joined them in prayer and each time my eyes started watering uncontrollably.  I had to turn away so people wouldn't think I was crying.  Emma told me later she was shocked when I asked her for a copy of the Jesus: The Man Behind the Millennium video that came out when we were in Year 12 in 2000. She thought I wasn't serious and mentioned that she was nervous, thinking I was going to bite her head off when she actually brought it to school.

I briefly considered becoming a Bahai because I didn't quite know how to tell my friends that I wanted to come to church regularly.  My next phase was an idea about starting my own religion called the 'Sarah religion' where basically people would come along, unroll some mats and bow down and worship a picture of me.  I wasn't serious but it showed that I desperately wanted something to follow.

My high school memories are some of the most treasured of my life and God had provided me with such wonderful friends whom he knew I needed.  I didn't want high school to end, but I was determined to get into Curtin and leave the following year.  I farewelled Albany in February 2001 and had a going-away party since I was the first of my friends to leave home and leave Albany.  But despite the sadness, I was only determined to succeed on my path to fame.  I was sure Perth had only good things for me and I couldn't wait to start my adventure.  Rhianon admitted years later she was worried because they had been witnessing to me for the past few years and now I was leaving, and they wondered if their efforts would still bear any fruit now that I was about to enter the uni environment.  But my Christian friends did not stop praying for me, that one day I would accept Christ.

If you told me it would be by the end of that year, I would have laughed in your face.

To be continued.....


Meredith said...

It is really amazing (although, in reality, we really ought not to be surprised at all!) that we see God's hand upon us all our life when we look back, even when we weren't walking with Him.

I had a similar experience, putting my trust in Jesus in my third year of uni, and until that point having a strong Christian presence in the form of friends and teachers at every step, quietly witnessing to me.

I look forward to hearing the rest of the story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Amanda said...

Sounds great, can't wait for the next part!